The Well-Read Investor

Sean B Carroll on a Series of Fortunate Events

Today we have award-winning scientist, author, educator, and film producer Sean B. Carroll with us to talk about the role of chance in biological life with his newest book, A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You.

Randomness and chance of course play a role in just about everything, and especially investments. But there’s wide debate about just how much of life and market results are defined by randomness and how much of those are truly within our control. The greatest scientists and philosophers of our age continue to wrestle with that issue (they always will, of course), and while we won’t solve those deep life mysteries for you here, Sean’s perspective on chance at the foundational level of biology—how randomness affects our very DNA—will make you think differently. This is a wide-ranging discussion about dinosaurs, viruses, DNA mutation, and so much else. Investors should pay close attention—while imperfect, analogies of markets to biological systems are well worth considering.

Today we have award-winning scientist, author, educator, and film producer Sean B. Carroll with us to talk about the role of chance in biological life with his newest book, A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You.

Randomness and chance of course play a role in just about everything, and especially investments. But there’s wide debate about just how much of life and market results are defined by randomness and how much of those are truly within our control. The greatest scientists and philosophers of our age continue to wrestle with that issue (they always will, of course), and while we won’t solve those deep life mysteries for you here, Sean’s perspective on chance at the foundational level of biology—how randomness affects our very DNA—will make you think differently. This is a wide-ranging discussion about dinosaurs, viruses, DNA mutation, and so much else. Investors should pay close attention—while imperfect, analogies of markets to biological systems are well worth considering.

Hello everyone today is May 26th 20-21 and welcome to another edition of the Well-Read Investor, the podcast that profits your mind and your money. I’m your host Mike Hanson.

Today we have award-winning scientist, author, educator, and film producer Sean B. Carroll with us to talk about the role of chance in biological life with his newest book, A Series of Fortunate Events: Chance and the Making of the Planet, Life, and You.

Randomness and chance of course play a role in just about everything, and especially investments. But there’s wide debate about just how much of life and market results are defined by randomness and how much of those are truly within our control. The greatest scientists and philosophers of our age continue to wrestle with that issue (they always will, of course), and while we won’t solve those deep life mysteries for you here, Sean’s perspective on chance at the foundational level of biology—how randomness affects our very DNA—will make you think differently. This is a wide-ranging discussion about dinosaurs, viruses, DNA mutation, and so much else. Investors should pay close attention—while imperfect, analogies of markets to biological systems are well worth considering.

More about Sean. He’s won more awards than we have time to list. An internationally-recognized evolutionary biologist, he leads the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He’s also the Head of HHMI Tangled Bank film Studios, and maintains prominent and distinguished positions at the University of Maryland and University of Wisconsin, among much else. What I like about Sean most though is his commitment to communication—you’ll know him from his award-winning book, The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters, and also from films like Oliver Sacks: His Own Life. In fact, his films have garnered one Emmy win and two Emmy nominations.

So, here’s our conversation with Sean B. Carroll. Enjoy!

Well Sean, thank you so much for being on the program. I've actually read several, several of your books and in fact, the Serengeti rules is how I first got my introduction to you. As a science writer for years with a focus on evolution, can you just give us a little bit of a background on your career, how you got to this point and specifically your emphasis on communicating with the outside world about science and evolutionary?

Sean B Carroll:

Well, sure. And thanks for having me. I began my life as a biologist by flipping over logs and looking for salamanders snakes and things like this. And I think that's true of a lot of my brethren that if you have an attachment to nature, if you're interested in, in wildlife if you can be lucky enough to find a career where you get to do things you love and be around people who have similar passions like that, it's, it's great. And there was no master plan that I was going to wind up writing books or making films or anything like that. I just was really driven by curiosity about nature. And as I learned more about evolutionary science, I felt it was, it was the big picture. It was the big synthesis that kind of made sense out of life. And yet there were big questions that loomed.

Sean B Carroll:

And for me, one of the main questions that I focused on was where to new things come from, you know, how to new things evolve, how to new body parts evolve, and especially looked at the evolving physical diversity of the animal kingdom. How do, how do you change the size shape, number, color, whatever pieces of anatomy and that's was a long-held mystery, which I'd like to think we've we at least crack that box open. And some of the cracking of that box, what happened with some of those discoveries were so surprising. And I think appealing to the general audience that I started getting asked to give explanations to reporters or on camera and documentaries or public talks and museums and things like that. And I thought, well, I'm either going to give this talk a thousand times, or I should really write down some of these things that led to writing books and then writing books led to making films. When I started collaborating with filmmakers and now I wind up leading a documentary film studio while also still being a scientist. So I hope that's a capsule summary of how you go from flipping logs and three to Ohio to whatever I am now.

Mike Hanson:

Yeah, it's amazing how communication is one of the skill sets that kind of bridges so many different types of endeavors, but why this particular book, I mean, what was the impetus for writing a series of fortunate events?

Sean B Carroll

I think it's one of the under appreciated sort of under-discussed aspect of what we know about the natural world, which is the big role of chance. On the one hand I think humans love chance in some way, right? We will, we will bet on any game, we're excited to go to Vegas. We flock to the lotteries. We like that, but we don't like the idea of chance in our own personal lives that the role chance plays, for example, in our own health, the role that chance plays in sort of the lottery at birth of the genetic ingredients we inherit that seems that could be unnerving. And then in the bigger picture of the role, chances played in the course of life on earth. And the fact that we're not for some really big chance events, you and I would not be having this conversation and civilization would not exist. Yeah.

Mike Hanson:

Let’s talk about that for a second because you open the book effectively with a geological history of the world. Why is that?

Sean B Carroll:

I tell a story about Seth McFarland on who on September 10th, 2001 was giving a talk at his Alma mater the Rhode Island school of design stayed out late drinking and was late for his plane. The next morning out of Boston's Logan airport. He was about a half an hour late because of a mistake. His travel agent made in writing down the time. So he missed American flight 11, which was one of the two planes that hit the towers in New York. And you know, what a difference 30 minutes can make in his case, it was the line between life and mass, you know, being a victim of mass murder. Well, there's other instances in the big natural world that I tell the story of the asteroid impact that I think most people have heard about that hit the earth about 66 million years ago, that wiped out the great dinosaurs.

Sean B Carroll:

Well, the more we study that impact, we know two things first that really mammals that had been around for about a hundred million years before the impact did not have a very significant influence on the planet or even a very impressive presence on the planet at the time of the impact. Well, they took off once these large dinosaurs were cleared out, the world was open to mammals and in a very quick period of time, mammals became larger and more diverse I'd ever been in, in their whole a hundred million year history and became then the largest animals in the season and on land and still are. And of course that led to primates and primates of course, led to us. Then I here's the fact that I share in the book that asteroid, which had been circling the solar system for perhaps maybe 4 billion years happened to enter the atmosphere in such a way that it hit the Yucatan peninsula that day.

Sean B Carroll:

Well now geologists look at that impact site and they're like, you know what? It takes a particular toxic brew of what gets thrown up into the atmosphere by an impact to create a mass extinction and those rocks and Yucatan just had the right chemistry and that somewhere between 90, 99% of the surface of the earth does not have the right rocks. So had that asteroid entered 30 minutes earlier, it lands in the Atlantic 30 minutes later, it lands in the Pacific. We don't have a mass extinction. Dinosaurs could still well be here and no humanity. So 30 minutes either way, well, for Seth, that was life or death and maybe for the asteroid impact, that was either humanity or no humanity, 30 minutes, one way or the other. Yeah.

Mike Hanson:

I'm glad you brought up Seth McFarland because I've heard you say that. It's interesting. The comedians are one of the only groups that have an ability to kinda point out this sort of point of view about the world and that sort of the absurdity or the chance of, of the world. And I, I don't want to talk to you a lot about chance over the course of this conversation, but do you think on some level, this is about understanding let's call it like a non, non humanistic worldview?

Sean B Carroll:

We don't live in the best of all possible worlds. We just live in our world, our world shaped by chance from the movements of continents, to the fluctuations of the climate, to the role of the genetic dice in our DNA. That there's just all of these chance driven processes that have shaped the world that we know it. And that's, you know, that does overturn the way humans have been thinking for thousands of years that we've always put ourselves you know, at the center of everything. But, you know, we're relatively late arriving, you know, on this planet and a whole lot happened before us. And, you know, it's, it's an understandable arrogance, but it's kind of arrogant as it is. And I think, you know, we have to sort of see ourselves a little more humbly as a, as just another member of you know, nature,

Mike Hanson:

Actually, it's a pretty good worldview for an investor too, because humility is pretty much the name of the game. But in one of the things you talk about in the book is the Monte Carlo example and the gambler's fallacy, which is ironic because there's something called a Monte Carlo analysis in finance. So tell us about the gambler's fallacy and, and why that just leads people astray so much.

Sean B Carroll:

Well, so I'll start with sort of what maybe an explanation of the psychology, and then go back to the practical example that the story out of Monte-Carlo was an incredible run on the roulette wheel of the same color coming up again and again, and again, and better, Zen are sort of thinking, look, the other color has to come up on the next role of the wheel, right? So red or red versus black, for example. And, but of course every spin of the wheel is independent of the previous ones. It doesn't the wheel doesn't know what it's fun before. So every, every bet is an independent bet, but our minds were we're pattern solving machines, right? You can think about as primates and, you know, we have full color vision, which is relatively rare in the animal kingdom, you know, but the great apes in ourselves, we have full color vision.

Sean B Carroll:

You know, we make these mental maps of wherever we are, et cetera. You know, we're always trying to figure our place in the world. We're always trying to figure out pattern and the pattern thinks if it goes red, red, red, red, red, red, red, and the alternative color is black. Our brains are going, it's gotta be black, it's gotta be black. So we're Bettman Baton. And the next role is going to be black. So the gambler's fallacy is thinking that all these previous chance, independent events have some influence on the next event when the next event is as independent as each individual prior event. And that makes us well, it makes us make mistakes to think that something, you know, the opposite outcome has to happen. Maybe in our own personal lives, we might say, well, you know my family is all boys, as it turns out, my kids are all boys.

Sean B Carroll:

Right? And you think, well, the next kid's gotta be a girl. Well, it's the same odds for every child born. So there's no bigger rule that says, if you have, you know, four boys, the next one's going to be a girl, no, it's, it's, it's a roll the dice and you have the same odds on for each child. So we just get fooled a little bit that thinking that there must be a pattern when there's no pattern it's random. And and we, if we bet on the next event we're just as likely to be wrong.

Mike Hanson:

It’s so interesting because in the investing world, what we say is stocks are non seriously auto correlated. It's been established for a long time. And yet all you really do in this business is keep seeking out patterns that you know, based on past performance. But so, so what is chance and randomness? I mean, what is in your mind, what's the definition and how should we think about that?

Sean B Carroll:

Well, I think something, you know, random, and I'm obviously talking about events in nature and it doesn't mean they don't have a cost, but that root cause essentially if it has a huge element of chance to it, meaning that there's so many possible outcomes that it's basically random or in fact of the alternative outcomes, whichever one happens is as random, pretty much as, you know, throwing a dice or flipping a coin or something like that. So let's take maybe a real world example would be the chromosomes you and I inherited from mom and dad. Okay. So dad's got 23 pairs of chromosomes. Mom has 23 pairs of chromosomes. They each donate half of those in the making of you and I. And so that's, that's, that's how we get made. And you might say, well, you know this is why we resemble our parents, but now here's a fun, here's a fun thing to play with.

Sean B Carroll:

How many genetically unique children could any couple have, could your mom and dad, or my dad, mom and dad have how many genetically unique children donating 23 chromosomes in the sperm, 23 chromosomes in the egg. How many could they make? And it started doing the math. It's not 23. It's not 46. It's not 92, it's over 70 trillion. Okay. So when I say random it's because which chromosomes get packaged in the sperm or the egg is random and there's that many combinations. And then which sperm is lucky enough to be the one out of a hundred million or more that make the trip up the fallopian tube and successfully fertilize the egg. That's a one in 109 shot. So the that's a really biologically random process, you know, has a huge element of random. It's not, of course your parents, there's a, there's only a finite number of children your parents could make, but it's still 70 trillion. So so that's when I say random, it's, it's, you know, much like the flip of a coin, much like the role of a dice or something that has so many factors that essentially behaves like a random chance during process.

Mike Hanson:

In those things, though, you take a very interesting turn because you make the claim that, you know, chance is really the foundation of creativity. Tell us about that.

Sean B Carroll:

Here's some facts, okay. You are you and distinctly you because of your DNA. Okay. we won't get into your cultural experiences because that's also shapes you in your brain, but I'm just say, biologically, you're you, and I'm B we're genetically distinct. And in fact, because of the process, I just told you of the sorting of chromosomes, no two human eggs and therefore no to humans, other than twins will ever be identical on this planet. We're, we're just, we're just generating diversity all day long or all millennial on in, in people. But the reason why chance is such a important maker of all diversity comes down to the level of DNA. You are you, I IME, but you know, our dogs, our cat cats, and because of different, because of their DNA, every species is different because of DNA.

Sean B Carroll:

Every individual member of that species is different because of its DNA and changes in DNA, take place every time a new individual is made, we call those mutations. Hmm. Well, we now really understand the deep root of mutation and it is a chance process. It has to do with the chemistry of the very basis that endowed DNA with its properties, these bases go through little shape, shifts, less spontaneous shape shifts. And if they're going through a little shapeshift at the moment, they're being copied by the machinery you can, you can get a change, a mutation. And that mutation means that's the source of all the diversity in the world. Cause if all DNA, if every creature is different because of what's in its DNA, you say, well, how did that DNA become different? It all became different because of this chance based mechanism. So chances that the root of all diversity, all beauty, all complex, all complexity in the living world starts with a chance event. And that, you know, I, I think there's some philosophers that have lived over the last couple thousand years whose minds would explode.

Mike Hanson:

Well, that's the fun of it, but it's creative. I'm fascinated by the idea though. How do you delineate the difference between what is chance and then what becomes contingent? You talked, you touched on this a little bit in the book.

Sean B Carroll:

So let's say, you know your, you, your existence was contingent on your mom and dad meeting. Right. Okay. You as that outcome was a chance. Okay. But, but they're meeting as a contingency for you to exist. Okay. So these chance events become contingency sort of through the retrospective of, of history. And I think that's, it's useful to draw a distinction between contingency and chances that chance events become contingencies when there are yet more events to happen. The asteroid was a contingency for the existence of humanity in itself was a chance event, right? No asteroid, no humans. That's the contingent.

Mike Hanson:

Is it fair to say this is potentiality becoming history, let's say, and the, and the unfolding of that.

Sean B Carroll:

Yeah. And there's an enormous range of potential realities, and it's just those political circumstances that essentially give you the, you know, the events that become history. Yes.

Mike Hanson:

One of the really interesting ways, I think it's towards the back half of the book where you talk about how chance affects the immune system and especially the way things like cancer happen and so, and so forth. And I think people would really love to hear you just say a little bit about how that works.

Sean B Carroll:

Well, let's start with cancer. I mean, every family is going to experience it somehow somewhere. And, you know, obviously it's one of our greatest challenges in dealing with it. It's also been an enormous focus for science for the last 50 years. And what we really understand so much better than 25 years ago is that individual cancers are, are essentially genetic. You can think of cancer as a genetic disease, but not a genetic disease. That's inherited, it's a genetic disease that sort of occur spontaneously in our tissues through the accumulation of mutations. So that very process that I'm talking about that happens in the making of a new individual well, in your body, every time a cell doubles, every time a cell multiplies its DNA is copied new mistakes, get made, new mutations happen. And the cumulative effect of some of those mutations may be to change the properties of that cell in such a way that it grows for example, uncontrollably.

Sean B Carroll:

So the root of cancer is chance mutation. That knowledge let's, let's kinda let's chew on that for a little bit. Well, what does that mean? Well, that knowledge is going to, we're going to absorb that in different ways. First of all, I think from the viewpoint of empathy, you know, if you know anyone, for example, whose child is struck with cancer, you know, the, I think the most kind thing you can do is to say to them, there's nothing you did to cause it there's nothing you could've done to prevent it, that this is just, I know it sounds trite. This is just bad luck. This is just through changes in DNA that you had no influence over. This is just something unfortunately of that happens to those of us who are alive. On the other hand, as scientists have studied the very genes that get changed in cancers, there's about 150 genes of the 20,000 we have that are repeatedly changed in the entire spectrum of cancers that is equipped us with whole new ways of beating cancer.

Sean B Carroll:

So there's all sorts of targeted drugs. Now, scores of them that didn't exist 25 years ago because my brethren who've worked on the genetics of cancer and the ability to determine the sequences of genes in cancers. This gives us powerful, targeted therapies. So while the event itself is scary as can all be, and, you know, just for the record I just got off a phone call 10 minutes ago with an update on a family member. So I'll, I'll make that as concrete as I can that, you know, it's, it's, it's very frightening, but we have to understand this is part of being alive. Your risk goes up as you age, it's about a hundred fold higher at age 70 than it is at age 35 because you're accumulating all these mutations, but our knowledge is so much more powerful that this has led to much better targeted therapies.

Sean B Carroll:

And I think, you know, outcomes for lots and lots of cancers are so much better now than they were just just 10 years ago. So understanding this chance mechanism, you can see it's, we've kind of left the philosophical realm. We're in the practical realm of understanding, Hey, for every biopsy I get, you know labs should be looking at the sequence, the DNA sequence of these cancers, figure out which genes have been changed, figuring out how that correlates with the progression of the disease, in which therapies for example, would be indicated. And that's that's that's, that's where, you know, the fundamental understanding of, of chance mutation, you know, meets our daily life.

Mike Hanson:

I want to talk to you then a little bit about particularly thinking about evolution and futurity the role of chance. I mean, you make the point in the book that change is an absolute necessity. It's part of it it's built into the DNA. And so I just want to hear your thoughts about that and perhaps where you think things could go. I mean, especially as an evolutionary biologist,

Sean B Carroll:

Well, it's cool. I mean, where things have been is also fascinating. So if that's an lesson, you know, life is about 3.8 billion years old, and you look through time. If you landed on this planet, you know, a hundred million years ago, it was a really different place and 500 million years ago. Oh, wow. Well, you wouldn't found any life on land, so that would have probably thrown you off. You go back a billion years ago, everything was microscopic, right? It doesn't, there's nothing large. It all life was essentially, you know, cellular. So life has changed a lot. It's therefore it, we, with some humility we look forward, right? We hope that the big stuff, right. Dinosaurs were doing great. I mean, large reptiles were doing great for 150 million years on this planet. And they got taken out in an instant that asteroid impact caused such catastrophic change to the Earth's environment for probably for, well immediately for decades and long ranging effects for thousands of years, that large creatures like these large dinosaurs just couldn't make it.

Sean B Carroll:

There was not enough food that the whole food chain was shut down. So barring those catastrophes, which we really can't bar, because we don't know if there might be another one barring those catastrophes, you know, life is going to meander here. And of course the biggest influence now on the planet is us. We are having the greatest impact on life's direction on the planet. We just pulled back from that a little bit. You say, well, what, what do we, what do you see in the future? If we were a little less influential, you know, life continues to diverge. Life continues to adapt. Life continues to change. That's, that's just going to be a given. So what life looks like a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a million years from now probably depends on what our species does. We we've just reached this point where with 8 billion of us and our footprint on the planet is such that, you know, we're shaping, we're shaping the direction of life because we're sorting out which species are well adapted to life in this human dominated planet and which ones are not.

Sean B Carroll:

And that's, that's what has a lot of us concerned, you know, over the coming decades. And it said we're hugging wittingly kind of ruling a very big lottery. Yeah, yeah. More. I mean, I'll just say maybe to, to maybe spark people's imaginations in another way that it has a slightly gloomy atmosphere to it. But if you also think across the universe it's myself, many biologists. I bet anybody who thinks seriously about this pretty much expects life to be widespread in universe, at least microscopic life. So when you think about the future of life, there's the future of life on earth dominated now by these two legged, you know, talking apes but there's life, you know, there's, we just think that life is prevalent elsewhere in the universe. It may not be large like it is now, you know, with, you know, big trees and big animals and things like that.

Sean B Carroll:

Because for the most, you know, for over 3 billion years on earth, it was all tiny. It was all, you know, its smallest cellular life. But given a lot of life across the universe, there must be some really interesting places out there that we haven't found yet. And so I think, you know, maybe I gave you two answers to your question about the future life, future life on earth, very human influence, future life in the universe. We haven't even discovered it yet. That's if you, if you go to JPL in Pasadena and you talked to what those NASA folks are doing, they are so jacked to try to finally a glimpse at life somewhere elsewhere, you know, elsewhere in the universe. And many of us would we would trade a lot of, a lot of dollars and know what that life has made.

Mike Hanson:

It's so cool to hear someone like you say that, I mean, I of course had similar thoughts, but it's just, just such fascinating and it is a little bit more of an optimistic note. And I want to finish our time with you though, Sean, to talk a little bit about a little bit more about what you're up to. First I want to just ask you about how do you pick topics for books and how do you go about deciding your communication method to the rest of the world?

Sean B Carroll:

Topics of books? I think I'm going to, it sounds kind of corny, but I think they kind of choose me in the sense that an idea rattles around there for so long. And, and doesn't let you go. So things will come in and come and go and they won't take enough shape and they won't kind of grip you, but some things, for example, the book about chance, I've been thinking about that for a long time. And I just really was, was thinking about how to tackle it because I wanted to make it accessible, even fun. I didn't want to make it, you know, ponderous and academic and thick. I wanted to make it as tangible as possible in people's real lives, because I think this perspective has, you know, in enriches our lives, I guess it's probably gonna shake some people up, but at the same for others, it might enrich their lives.

Sean B CarrollL:

So when in this case I was thinking, how can I make it a little bit lighthearted? Either with the anecdotes or some humor or things like this. So that first of all, it does reflect my personality, which is I, I love standup comedy. I love a good joke. I love a good yarn. So I wanted to, I wanted to have that kind of voice in this book and you know, as risky as that may be either if you are not funny or if you're a scientist, friends, think you shouldn't be joking around. But you know, life is short. You gotta take your chances. So in this case, I, I consciously wanted to make a short, somewhat lighthearted, but very tangible set of stories about how chance influences our lives.

Mike Hanson:

Yeah. And I should tell listeners that you can read this particular book in an afternoon or two. And it really is quite engaging. It's funny too, because we hear that do a lot of communication on the investing side. I study comedy all the time and in fact, my boss told me, he said, you want to learn how to, how to speak in front of an audience, go watch, stand up comedy, which I'm itching to do again at some point, hopefully in the near future. So we were talking a little offline before we started this though. You've got a lot of things going on and you're actually a, an executive film producer as well. So tell us what's happening next. And how did you get into that?

Sean B Carroll:

I got into it like many things you just gradually got into it. I got to meet a lot of filmmakers over the years. Mostly by participating in their documentaries and kept asking them, you know, To do your best work? And I think they often felt that they were rushed. Under-Resourced you know, that there was another way you could do some things. And when I got the chance, I, I worked for a philanthropy called the Howard Hughes medical Institute where the largest funder of science and science education in the U S private funder. From science that need to be told science needs to be a part of our culture. And the way to do that is through storytelling and film is the most powerful means. You know, it's, it's images, it can bring parts of the invisible world or the past to life that, you know, we can't experience in, in real time. You know, he had music, you know, it's, it's an emotional experience. It's not, it's not just a cerebral experience. And so with film being so powerful it sort of led me into collaborating with filmmakers. And so we've made a lot of films and we have a lot of films to come. and we're often trying to tell inspiring or important stories out of the world of science with, with broad audiences and and including young audiences. Cause I, I, you know, I think we've got to inspire people's interest, not just in science, writ large, but in, in nature. And, you know, in the world we live in and, and in asking questions about it, you know, how does it work? Why is this here? How did it get here? The, the mysteries of life through the, through the scientific.

Mike Hanson:

Yeah. And so you've got something just about to come out. Tell us about that.

Sean B Carroll:

On CNN called race for the vaccine. We were part of a team of production companies involved in the making this film making this film probably one of the more challenging ones, because it, it is it was made entirely during course during the pandemic teams the main teams, both in the us and in Britain, but filmed on five continents to track. And we'd start at the beginning. So we didn't know which horses were going to cross the finish line. So we had to get access to teams that were involved in developing all sorts of vaccines and follow them through those processes and see see what happened. And I certainly, even though I'm not only a trained biologist, I'm actually a trained immunologist in my early days. If we had had this conversation in April of 2020 and said, Sean, where would you place your bet?

Sean B Carroll:

In fact, it's a bet that might have some pretty big financial consequences that, you know, what the vaccine companies have done. I couldn't have guessed. Nobody could have guessed of what design, what vaccine designs would be effective and which ones would fail. And there were failures. You haven't heard about some of the failures because they were stopped essentially before they got deeper into development. So this is on CNN, Sanjay Gupta is narrating it, but it it's gives you a behind the scenes view of the scientists in the design, the development, the testing, and even the manufacturer, which is no small task at all, which is to make hundreds of millions of billions, of doses of these things. These are the people you haven't seen. These, these are people who are, you know, we, you, you may not know, but you go to the grocery store with them. You just don't know that they spent the last year trying to save our lives.

Mike Hanson:

Yeah, that is that's awesome. That's I really look forward to that. You know, it's a funny thing because we in the forecasting business, mostly of human behavior, cause that's what I think most of market behavior is this confounded everyone completely. And on that basis, it's one of the great lessons that I've ever witnessed. Everybody had ideas about this stuff and who knew what the outcomes would be. That's once again, going back to the humility of chance. So we always finish our interviews with what do you like to read, Sean? And what are you reading these days?

Sean B Carroll:

Well, I just picked up, I've been reading a little bit funny enough about human psychology. And part of that is to understand what the, maybe to understand both what we've been through. And I think what we're going through, which is why when confronted with solid facts, why, when confronted with the opportunity to save your life, people don't choose to embrace either of those things. So the book I'm going to talk about is called mistakes were made not by me by Carol Tavarez and Elliot Aronson. And it's this whole realm of sort of cognitive dissonance. Why do we hold onto things that are just untrue and, and, you know, hold onto them tenaciously. And how do we even come up with these thoughts in the first place? You know, I think, I don't think I have to pick out too many incidents, whether it's the pandemic or our politics people hold to things tenaciously and we can't all be right.

Sean B Carroll:

Oh, we need some ways of figuring out what is closer to the truth and to share that with each other. And we got to find ways to get back to that. Cause I don't really recognize the world we're living in right now to the one I grew up with in the 1960s. I think expertise is not viewed in the same way. People have their different sources. I I'll very quickly just tell a story of somebody was taking a ride in an Uber the other day and they were trying to persuade the driver to get vaccinated. And she said, well, you know, you have your sources. And I have mine, here's talking to a scientist. W we can't live in a world of alternative sources and alternative facts. So without preaching any further, the book that I recommend is called mistakes were made, but not by me.

Mike Hanson:

Yeah. I mean, regardless of partisanship especially in investing cognitive dissonance is one of the absolute key problems. I mean,it's pernicious and persistent, and I agree with you. It's a different world today in many ways. Sean B Carroll,  thank you so much for doing this. It was a tremendous

Sean B Carroll:

Thanks for the opportunity. Appreciate it.

OUTRO:

That was our talk with Sean B Carroll.

To me, we should always consider the role of chance in markets because it allows us to think about the counterfactual—to ask how things could have been if this or that simply happened a little differently. Particularly with markets, there’s a tendency to view the past as “it had to be this way”, as if there’s a kind of destiny to market and economic outcomes. We don’t ask often enough how it could have been. As Sean says, had things been just a little bit different—even by just a few minutes here or there—it’s possible dinosaurs would still be ruling the planet. With markets, while humans as a community do tend to repeat behaviors through time, that’s against a backdrop of chaotic life where many things are possible but only one history actually happens.

Ok. we’re back in two weeks as usual with more great interviews. Remember to find us on Twitter @wellreadpod and Instagram at @wellreadinvestorpod or just google the Well Read Investor to see what I’m reading, reviewing, and talking about week in and out. And as always, may all your reading profit your mind and your money. Take care.

Privacy & Cookies | Visit Fisher Investments | Contact Us  | Return to Well-Read Investor Homepage

Investing in securities involves a risk of loss. Past performance is never a guarantee of future returns. Investing in foreign stock markets involves additional risks, such as the risk of currency fluctuations.

banner